Hezbollah: Background and Issues for Congress
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Security Council. Although the U. Iran has launched several satellites with space launch vehicles that use similar technology, which could also be adapted to develop an ICBM capability. The Middle East region is one of the most complex and volatile threat environments faced by the United States and its allies. Iranian Threats in the Middle East. Iran is led by an anti-Western revolutionary regime that seeks to tilt the regional balance of power in its favor by driving out the Western presence, undermining and overthrowing opposing governments, and establishing its hegemony over the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.
It also seeks to radicalize Shiite communities and advance their interests against Sunni rivals. Iran has a long record of sponsoring terrorist attacks against American allies and other interests in the region. Iran has not been able to acquire large numbers of modern armor, combat aircraft, longer-range surface-to-surface missiles, or major naval warships. Tehran, however, has managed to import modern Russian and Chinese air-to-air, air-to-ground, air defense, anti-armor, and anti-ship missiles to upgrade its conventional military and asymmetric forces.
The Escalating Conflict with Hezbollah in Syria | Center for Strategic and International Studies
To compensate for its limited capability to project conventional military power, Tehran has focused on building up its asymmetric warfare capabilities, proxy forces, and ballistic missile and cruise missile capabilities. The lifting of sanctions also enabled Tehran to emerge from diplomatic isolation and strengthen strategic ties with Russia. Both regimes called for enhanced military cooperation. Tehran announced in April that Russia had begun deliveries of up to five S Favorit long-range surface-to-air missile systems, which can track up to aircraft and engage six of them simultaneously at a range of kilometers.
Moscow also began negotiations to sell Iran an unspecified number of T tanks and advanced Sukhoi Su Flanker fighter jets. The agreement is scheduled to expire in October If Tehran pulled out of the agreement, however, the embargo would continue, precluding the sales.
Iran, working closely with Russia, then expanded its military efforts and helped to consolidate a costly victory for the Assad regime. At the height of the fighting in August , Russia temporarily deployed TuM3 bombers and Su strike fighters to an air base at Hamedan in western Iran in order to strike rebel targets in Syria.
On February 10, , Iranian forces in Syria launched an armed drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before it was shot down. Iranian forces in Syria later launched a salvo of 20 rockets against Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights on May 9, , provoking Israel to launch ground-to-ground missiles, artillery salvos, and air strikes against all known Iranian bases in Syria. Although Russia has sought to calm the situation, reportedly helping to arrange the withdrawal of Iranian heavy weapons 85 kilometers from Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights, Moscow has turned a blind eye to Iranian redeployments and the threat that long-range Iranian weapon systems deployed in Syria pose to Israel.
Iran has adopted a political warfare strategy that emphasizes irregular warfare, asymmetric tactics, and the extensive use of proxy forces. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has trained, armed, supported, and collaborated with a wide variety of radical Shia and Sunni militant groups, as well as Arab, Palestinian, Kurdish, and Afghan groups that do not share its radical Islamist ideology.
In recent years, Iranian arms shipments have been intercepted regularly by naval forces off the coasts of Bahrain and Yemen, and Israel has repeatedly intercepted arms shipments, including long-range rockets, bound for Palestinian militants in Gaza. In April , the Pentagon released an updated estimate of the number of U.
Terrorist Threats from Hezbollah. Iran played a crucial role in creating Hezbollah in as a vehicle for exporting its revolution, mobilizing Lebanese Shia, and developing a terrorist surrogate for attacks on its enemies. During the Iran—Iraq war, Iran used Hezbollah to launch terrorist attacks against Iraqi targets and against Arab states that sided with Iraq.
Hezbollah threatens the security and stability of the Middle East and Western interests in the Middle East on a number of fronts. In addition to its murderous actions against Israel, Hezbollah has used violence to impose its radical Islamist agenda and subvert democracy in Lebanon. German intelligence officials estimate that roughly Hezbollah members live in Germany alone. Hezbollah also has developed an extensive web of fundraising and logistical support cells throughout Europe. Hezbollah has been involved in many terrorist attacks against Europeans, including:. Significantly, European participation in Lebanese peacekeeping operations, which became a lightning rod for Hezbollah terrorist attacks in the s, could become an issue again if Hezbollah attempts to revive its aggressive operations in southern Lebanon.
Troops from EU member states could someday find themselves attacked by Hezbollah with weapons financed by Hezbollah supporters in their home countries. Hezbollah operatives have been deployed in countries throughout Europe, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, and Greece. Growing Missile Threat. Iran possesses the largest number of deployed missiles in the Middle East.
This was the first such operational use of mid-range missiles by Iran in almost 30 years, but it was not as successful as Tehran might have hoped. It was reported that three of the five missiles launched missed Syria altogether and landed in Iraq and that the remaining two landed in Syria but missed their intended targets by miles.
The backbone of the Iranian ballistic missile force is the Shahab series of road-mobile surface-to-surface missiles, which are based on Soviet-designed Scud missiles. The Shahab missiles are potentially capable of carrying nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads in addition to conventional high-explosive warheads.
Their relative inaccuracy compared to NATO ballistic missiles limits their effectiveness unless they are employed against large, soft targets like cities. Iran is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, and it has sought aggressively to acquire, develop, and deploy a wide spectrum of ballistic missile, cruise missile, and space launch capabilities. During the — Iran—Iraq war, Iran acquired Soviet-made Scud-B missiles from Libya and later acquired North Korean—designed Scud-C and No-dong missiles, which it renamed the Shahab-2 with an estimated range of kilometers or miles and Shahab-3 with an estimated range of kilometers or miles.
It now can produce its own variants of these missiles as well as longer-range Ghadr-1 and Qiam missiles. Although early variants of the Shahab-3 missile were relatively inaccurate, Tehran was able to adapt and employ Chinese guidance technology to improve strike accuracy significantly. Flynn warned that:. Iran also has become a center for missile proliferation by exporting a wide variety of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and rockets to the Assad regime in Syria and proxy groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Iraqi militias.
However, it is Israel, which has fought a shadow war with Iran and its terrorist proxies, that is most at risk from an Iranian missile attack. Moreover, all of Israel can be hit with the thousands of shorter-range rockets that Iran has provided to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Tehran has invested tens of billions of dollars since the s in a nuclear weapons program that is concealed within its civilian nuclear power program.
It built clandestine but subsequently discovered underground uranium-enrichment facilities near Natanz and Fordow and a heavy-water reactor near Arak that would give it a second potential route to nuclear weapons. Even if Iran did not use a nuclear weapon or pass it on to one of its terrorist surrogates to use, the regime could become emboldened to expand its support for terrorism, subversion, and intimidation, assuming that its nuclear arsenal would protect it from retaliation as has been the case with North Korea.
This flaw led President Donald Trump to withdraw the U. The Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities were allowed to remain in operation, although the latter facility was to be repurposed at least temporarily as a research site. The heavy-water reactor at Arak was also retained with modifications that will reduce its yield of plutonium.
All of these facilities, built covertly and housing operations prohibited by multiple U. Security Council resolutions, were legitimized by the agreement. The Iran nuclear agreement marked a risky departure from more than five decades of U. Iran got a better deal on uranium enrichment under the agreement than such U. Iran, Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, China, and Russia sought to salvage the agreement, but this is unlikely, given the strength of the U. Instead, it has sought to pressure European states to protect it from the effects of U.
Iran also is a declared chemical weapons power that claims to have destroyed all of its chemical weapon stockpiles, but it has never fully complied with the Chemical Weapons Convention or declared its holdings. Iranian Threats to Israel. In addition to ballistic missile threats from Iran, Israel faces the constant threat of attack from Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, and other Arab terrorist groups, including many supported by Iran.
The threat posed by Arab states, which lost four wars against Israel in , , , and Syria and the PLO lost a fifth war in in Lebanon , has gradually declined. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, and Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have been distracted by civil wars. Although the conventional military threat to Israel from Arab states has declined, unconventional military and terrorist threats, especially from an expanding number of sub-state actors, have risen substantially.
Hezbollah’s Procurement Channels: Leveraging Criminal Networks and Partnering with Iran
Iran has systematically bolstered many of these groups even when it did not necessarily share their ideology. It also expanded its own operations in the West Bank and Gaza and provided funding for specific attacks launched by other groups. In July , Hezbollah forces crossed the Lebanese border in an effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers inside Israel, igniting a military clash that claimed hundreds of lives and severely damaged the economies on both sides of the border.
Hezbollah has since rebuilt its depleted arsenal with help from Iran and Syria. According to official Israeli estimates, Hezbollah has amassed around , rockets, including a number of long-range Iranian-made missiles capable of striking cities throughout Israel.
In that war, Hamas also unveiled a sophisticated tunnel network that it used to infiltrate Israel to launch attacks on Israeli civilians and military personnel. In early May , Palestinian Islamic Jihad ignited another round of fighting in Gaza in which about rockets were fired at Israel. Iran remains the primary external threat to their security.
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Tehran has supported groups that launched terrorist attacks against Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Iran also has long backed Bahraini branches of Hezbollah and the Dawa Party. This led to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between many Arab states and Qatar in June and the imposition of economic sanctions as part of a diplomatic standoff that shows no signs of ending. When Bahrain was engulfed in a wave of Arab Spring protests in , its government charged that Iran again exploited the protests to back the efforts of Shia radicals to overthrow the royal family.
Bahrain has repeatedly intercepted shipments of Iranian arms, including sophisticated bombs employing explosively formed penetrators. Iranian hardliners have steadily escalated pressure on Bahrain. In January , Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric charged with sparking anti-government protests and cut diplomatic ties with Iran after Iranian mobs enraged by the execution attacked and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
In addition to terrorist threats and possible rebellions by Shia or other disaffected internal groups, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states face possible military threats from Iran. Because of their close security ties with the United States, Tehran is unlikely to launch direct military attacks against these countries, but it has backed Shiite terrorist groups like Saudi Hezbollah within GCC states and has supported the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Saudi Navy also established a blockade of Yemeni ports to prevent Iran from aiding the rebels. The Houthis have retaliated by launching Iranian-supplied missiles at military and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, including ballistic missile attacks on airports, Riyadh, and other cities, as well as cruise missile strikes. In December , the Houthis launched a cruise missile attack on an unfinished nuclear reactor in Abu Dhabi.
The United States has critical interests at stake in the Middle Eastern commons: sea, air, space, and cyber. The U. Maintaining the security of the sea lines of communication in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Mediterranean Sea is a high priority for strategic, economic, and energy security purposes. Interstate conflict or terrorist attacks could easily interrupt the flow of that oil. Bottlenecks such as the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal, and Bab el-Mandeb Strait are potential choke points for restricting the flow of oil, international trade, and the deployment of U.